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FIVE ACTIONS TO HELP YOU GET A BETTER NIGHT'S SLEEP




I used to have insomnia. I was long haul cabin crew and my body clock and circadian rhythms were all over the place. A book was recommended to me: “Fast Asleep, Wide Awake” by Dr Nerina Ramlakhan. I followed several suggestions from this book, and changing careers meant I no longer had to work shifts or deal with jetlag, resulting in my sleep improving dramatically. Many of the tips I share for better sleep are based on information I’ve learned from the aforementioned book.


1)      Establish a routine including some early nights / devote as many pre-midnight hours to sleep as is realistic for you: When I stopped flying for a living I was able to get two kittens who are very active at dawn and dusk and like to be fed every morning around 6 am. Because of this early pattern, I’ve been able to discipline myself to be in bed at 9 pm most of the time. I make the now grown-up cats wait an extra hour on Sunday if I sleep in!

Of course, getting a pet is not essential to creating a routine, although if you suffer from anxiety, daytime resting with a pet is a great way to regulate your nervous system.

The body gets the most restorative sleep in the hours before midnight, therefore if I’ve got a solid three or four hours of sleep in the bank at the beginning of the night, it’s not a total disaster if I have some disturbed sleep a bit later on, I don’t need to become anxious about it. Also, it’s normal to wake up for a bathroom break between periods of R.E.M. sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) and I can minimize these breaks by limiting the amount of liquid I drink in the evening.


2)      Cut out screen time for an hour or two before bed:

Electrical devices are banned from my bedroom, they get switched off and put away in a drawer usually between 6 pm & 7 pm. If anything important happens I would rather find out the following morning having rested than set my mind into overdrive before bed when I am trying to relax and prepare for sleep. I’ve been practicing this routine for four years now and it is working well for me most of the time. My years of being a night owl are behind me and I am officially an early bird, I know I have the most energy in the morning and try to arrange my schedule to support that.

At bedtime, I use a traditional alarm clock and a reading light to spend some time writing in my journal – sometimes a gratitude list to help me drift off thinking about the more positive aspects of my life or my day, sometimes a list of anything that is left undone so that I can refer back to it in the morning. Then I will read a book until around 9:30 pm and switch out the light, it's not perfect but most of the time I go to sleep fairly soon after.


3)      Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet:  The body needs to drop by 1oC in temperature to initiate sleep, this means if it is winter and you have the heating on in the evening which warms the bedroom you might have difficulty nodding off. Turn the heating off earlier or open a window in the bedroom to allow the room to cool down, perhaps you can snuggle in the covers to keep you asleep and warm enough throughout the night?

Hot summer nights can be problematic for sleep, if you can buy an air conditioner or cooling fan this may help you. The fan may also help in conjunction with earplugs if you can hear any noises (snoring, noisy neighbourhood etc) at night.  Blackout blinds or curtains are beneficial to keep your room dark enough if you are trying to sleep during daylight hours during the summer for instance, wearing eye shades can also assist in this scenario.

 

4)      Breakfast habits & caffeine intake:  Do you eat breakfast when you wake up? Many people have no appetite first thing in the morning and may have coffee or a piece of toast, choosing to eat their main meals later in the day. This can be problematic if you are a sensitive sleeper because a) it puts your energy into survival mode rather than safety mode and b) The closer you eat dinner to your bedtime the less time your body has to digest the food before you lay down, and eating spicy food before bed or eating late at night can cause further disruption. It is beneficial to get into the habit of eating a more substantial breakfast within the first hour of getting up, and certainly to have the first mouthfuls before you take in any caffeine, including tea. This could be some sugar-free cereal or porridge, a bowl of fruit or yoghurt. After you have done this for a little while you will start to have an appetite for breakfast and may even wake up feeling hungry, this will mean you are ready for your lunch and dinner earlier in the day than before and will assist you in establishing a good routine for meal times, which will have a positive knock-on effect for your sleep.


How much tea and coffee do you drink throughout the day? Of course, caffeine is a stimulant and I would suggest that if you are a sensitive sleeper you could start your morning gently with a tea, perhaps saving your coffee for a bit later on. It is sensible to set a cut-off time after which you allow yourself no caffeine. My cut-off time is around midday. Keep an eye on the amount of cola you drink, especially later in the day. Energy drinks are a no-no.

 

5)      Have an afternoon power nap if needed:  Sometimes the more we do to try and control our sleep the worse it may feel it’s getting, if you still have the occasional bad night sleep all is not lost, try not to worry about how well you may or may not be able to function the following day. You can start your day again at any point if you can grab a quick power nap. This could be as simple as putting headphones on and listening to a relaxing podcast whilst allowing yourself to nod off, or zoning out while watching a TV show. Set an alarm to stop you from oversleeping. This will restore some energy and allow you to meet the second half of your day feeling refreshed, you might feel a bit groggy at first but this will wear off.

Rushing through the day if you know you are tired and would benefit from a power nap could be detrimental to your health. Taking a power nap doesn’t have to impact the following night’s sleep so long as you stick to the new routine you are building.

When humans were cavemen they would function according to their circadian rhythms and would have an afternoon nap, it is only since the industrial revolution and the advent of electricity and recent technology that people have adapted to being “On” from the moment they rise until the time they collapse into bed at night. Whilst this kind of routine may be socially acceptable nowadays it does not support your natural life giving energy or promote good sleep.

 

If you would like to book a session with me to discuss your sleep, anxiety, or anything else Please email info@rfciw.com to arrange an initial call.   Thank you.

Robert Ferguson. Humanistic Counsellor (MBACP)

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